Garcetti’s LAPD Protest Statements Wildly Miss the Mark
Garcetti offers platitudes and magical thinking as protestors scream to defund the police
Perhaps stealing a page from his own COVID-19 playbook, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has used his recent televised press conferences to urge unity, tout progress, and attempt to calm an anxious public. However, Garcetti’s message is outright misleading, ignoring the role that LAPD and the city have played in the short-term: stoking peaceful protests into riots – and in the long-term: stoking institutionalized racism for generations.
In short, when Garcetti stepped up to the microphone he intentionally gave a fake message.
By focusing on the protests as singular events sparked by the murder of George Floyd, he passed on the opportunity presented to work to bring about change to make the city a better and safer place. By trying to make the protests all about Floyd’s murder and the actions of police officers in Minnesota, Garcetti avoids talking about the ask of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and their supporters: that either the Mayor or City Council reject the current proposed budget put out by the Mayor’s office which allocates 54% of the general fund to the LAPD.
Black Lives Matter and others have crafted “The People’s Budget” which differs dramatically from the police-heavy one being pushed by Garcetti.
Contrast Garcetti’s approach with that of Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom used a press briefing on Friday to discuss the cultural and institutional issues that lead to protests. Earlier today Newsom challenged everyone listening, especially white people, to think about what he and they can do to make it so that people don’t see these protests as necessary. Garcetti challenged nobody, well nobody except those protesting. And the challenge he issued was to act with more decorum.
This weekend the Mayor held two press conferences that actively minimized the outrage expressed at this weekend’s demonstrations, praised a police department that was repeatedly caught on film attacking peaceful protestors, and defended his proposal to increase the LAPD budget during a time of sweeping cuts to other departments. Both speeches were widely panned on social media for inventing an alternate reality and sidestepping urgent, systemic problems.
On Friday night, LAPD arrested over 500 protestors in downtown Los Angeles. Much of the local media coverage from the previous night followed the police department script focusing on damage to property and poor behavior by a minority of protestors. Garcetti followed this midleading narrative, focusing on the actions of some protestors, while ignoring the issues and demands that protestors are elevating.
Garcetti’s remarks focused on a call for unity, a plea for “de-escalation” and an appeal to our “better angels.” He repeatedly claimed the protests were solely a response to Floyd’s murder, and even praised the LAPD for their response to the protest. Garcetti’s tone-deaf advice to Angelenos to “take a deep breath,” shows, at best, a lack of awareness of a connection to Floyd’s repeated plea “I can’t breathe” taken up by many police brutality protestors.
The speech was met with sadness, confusion, and anger by people who were actually in attendance at Friday’s protests and by many who are keenly aware of the structural racism embedded in Los Angeles government and the long history of the LAPD in communities of color.
On Saturday, protests spread out wider than on the previous two nights, with actions taking place in the Fairfax community surrounding The Grove shopping mall, Downtown Los Angeles, and throughout the Westside. Much of the news coverage again focused on looting, but also on the conflicts between the LAPD and protestors without any sense of why peaceful protests can become violent, curfews being set, Newsom’s declaration of a local emergency, and the calling of the national guard just hours after Garcetti said he wouldn’t call the national guard. Most news outlets didn’t report that Metro closed down its bus routes, stranding people who rely on it …unless they were being detained by LAPD.
On Sunday, Garcetti again took to the microphone to make a speech that my Streetsblog colleague Sulaiman ripped apart in a long-form twitter thread. Garcetti insisted on defending and praising the police while social and independent media clearly show LAPD instigating and attacking protestors. He tried to explain the inexplicable decision to close Metro to its passengers and open it for LAPD transport. Then he tried to claim that people protesting the LAPD are simply unaware of how great the LAPD is doing these days and don’t understand that racism is over.
Scott Frazier, co-host of the L.A. Podcast, also wrote a long-form twitter critique of the Mayor’s presser that’s worth a read. It can be best summarized by this tweet:
Sometimes, I think that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is being graded on a curve. Being able to string words together into coherent sentences and refraining from urging people to inject themselves with bleach seems to be enough for him to earn passing marks from people who identify as liberal or progressive. Many of these people don’t spend the time to look closely at local budgets or at his statements on public safety, which can be bluntly and unabashedly described as Blue Lives Matter.
Even as people take to the streets en masse to protest the injustices LAPD and other institutions perpetuate against black people, Garcetti offered no reflections on what could or would change while he was mayor. He only issued a tepid call for unity and gave lip service in support of people’s right to protest. It is telling that Garcetti did not offer even mild criticism of the LAPD, and certainly not any reflections that the city budget he wrote, the majority of which is going to the police department, might need to be revised.
Instead, his speeches promulgated the tired and dangerous “us vs them” perspective, encouraging the simplistic take that the protests are a war against the police rather than a lawful expression of entirely understandable rage.
It also emboldened police to act like this: